Friday, November 25, 2005

Not the best

I seem to have caused some consternation around the office with my reaction to George Best's death. I expressed my relief at his demise; pleased that his ugly tawdry story had come to an end. When Princess Diana died, her beauty excused her of her indulgences and flaws. Best's footballing talents have excused him of his. The common premise seems to be that to be a genius, you have to be slightly unhinged, mentally ill even, cursed with inner demons. Look at Paul Gascoigne and Diego Maradona and... erm.

George Best can be ranked amongst the best players the world has ever seen, but to say his drink problem was an inevitable consequence of his genius is utter rubbish. Pele never had it, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Ronhaldino, Eusebio. The list of great players whose lives haven't descended into a farcical pantomime is far longer than those who have.

So Best has been excused his self-indugance in drink because of a fleeting, wasted talent at football. In the end his slow, painful and ugly death was the result of his own actions. A suicidal addiction to drink. He had every chance to get out of it, more chances and support than most. In the end he chose to abuse the help that was offered to him. He deserves to be ignored in the same way he ignored the endless warnings about what he was doing to himself. At least now we don't have to endure this endless tabloid voyeurism anymore, that should be a relief to us. And him.

And now it seems I will have to endure a minute's pious silence at the football tomorrow. Gadzooks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Story from two weeks ago: Man loses keys

...Is probably not a headline recently featured in the Jersey Evening Post, but it is that kind of place. Like so many others, we'd have overlooked Jersey if it wasn't for the fact Penny and Mike live there. It's got a kind of parochial, old persons holiday vibe about it (underpinned by unfathomable amounts of bankers' gold). The truth is, of course, very different. Penny and Mike, like their friends, are comfortable and confident people, the kind of comfort and confidence that is bred from health, (relative) wealth and the obvious safety of a small island.

It's an odd place (that's odd as in, not like most places), the island is a myriad of roads and it takes an age to get anywhere, you sometimes feel that you're being drive around in circles whilst someone sets up the next destination - "OK, they're gone, take down the beach front surfers cafe, and put up the sports centre". On Saturday I sat in a pub all afternoon with Mike's Hockey buddies, old school friends of his, one of whom I met three years ago, the others I didn't know at all. On paper an afternoon with strangers would have filled me with dread, but we sat discussing the nuances of their five-a-side league and the politics of Jersey hockey. They bantered about the old days, less a series of jokes, more keywords about the past to trigger various guffaws - "Biology" [pause] "Ha Ha Ha". It's great that people can have friends like that, they're just like me and my friends, but whilst I was clearly the interloper, it never felt exclusive, there was no pretence or performance, they were just hanging out (though they admitted with a wry smile that Saturday afternoons down the pub after Hockey were unheard of).

The rest of the weekend; a party for Mike's birthday, a coastal walk, breakfast a Big Vern's, Blow Karting on an isolated golden beach and of course, simply hanging out with some of our oldest friends (and Penny's recently grown bump) left me feeling that all was well and good in the world. We flew home relieved of the stresses and hassles of our everyday world, and for a few days at least, it was like we'd left the hassles behind permanently.

Story from one weekend ago: schlep

So I decided that regardless of where it was in the country, I was going to watch Oxford in the 1st round of the FA Cup. When the draw came up as Eastbourne Borough away, it seemed almost perfect. An unusually early 12pm kick-off was the final building block of my plan. It was the pointlessness that appealed - a game a very long way away; if Oxford won nobody would would have blinked, if they lost, they would have been ultimately humiliated. I couldn't leave the game feeling satisfied, apart from, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that I had done it. The pointlessness protected it from being no one else's triumph but mine.

Having practically circumnavigated the M25 I joined the A22; almost imediately I lost Radio 5 Live in a swirl of interference just as Michael Howard was expounding his fanatical support for Liverpool, Swansea City, Welsh rugby and Folkstone Invicta. I tuned into 3 Counties Radio and warnings about traffic around the Lewes fireworks display. Lower Dicker was less eventful than it's name promised, Upper Dicker may have been a different story, but it was a couple of miles up the hill. The ecclesiastical dyslexia of Boship's Roundabout made me chuckle.

I stopped in East Grinstead to get a sandwich, two women, one in a blue mac and lime green beret, talked in some hurdy gurdy Dutch hybrid language, maybe I'd drive too far. Eventually I reached Eastbourne, Eastbourne Borough have a neat, compact ground and is "run like all non-league clubs should be" according to the radio. We were repeatedly informed of the fireworks display that night and the "top cabaret duo" Just A Chance (you suspect that one of the duo is called something like Justin Adams, the other Gary Chance). Once I was in the ground I was sold a poorly printed programme full of typos and three tickets to the half time draw. Still, everyone, including the turnstile operators hoped that I'd enjoy the game. At half time the stadium announcer apologised that the stadium clock was broken and that we should time the game "using the stopwatch on your mobile phone", blimey they think of everything.

The atmosphere was great, 3,800 fans packed the ground, 2,000 more than they'd ever attracted before. They had horns and drums, wracking up a raucous noise. Every time their strikers got over the halfway line you could hear the shrieks of people who had been to as many Borough games as I had (i.e. none). Oxford were the better team throughout, if a little un-inventive, Steve Basham's goal was quality. Then in the last minute, the Eastbourne striker, a little bundle of energy with a low centre of gravity, who was quick but generally useless was bundled over by Oxford's titanic centre back Chris Wilmott and it was a penalty. They scored and the place erupted. Despite the half hearted catcalls of displeasure, most Oxford fans, like me, enjoyed the drama of the whole thing. After all they were on a pointless jaunt themselves, and this was great entertainment. We should tank them in the replay.

1-1 was fittingly inconclusive for my pointless venture, it took two and a half uneventful hours to get back, perfect really.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Fireworks are ace

Having inherited pyromaniac tendencies of my dad, I have come to the conclusion that fireworks are ace. They’re great when you go and see them in an organised display, but even better when you do them yourself.

Emma won’t let me do my own displays. She’s seen my dad idly sling a dud firework into a lit incinerator and seen me accidentally light a rocket upside down causing it to bury into the ground before resurfacing and launching at a jauntier angle than intended onto some dry bracken on the garage roof.

As a family we’re generally hopeless and unsafe when it comes to fireworks, we’ve regularly had temporary deafness foisted upon us as a rogue rocket bounces off the wall of the house onto the patio. When I was about 4 I picked up the wrong end of a recently extinguished sparkler burning my hand to a crisp… when I was 5 I did it again.

Most of all, I like the fact for this weekend, as a nation we engage in a low level, entirely sensible civil war. Kids let off fireworks in the streets, throw them at each other and neighbourhoods club together to bombard other neighbourhoods into submission. I know it’s wrong, but I love it.

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